But here we are on the last day of 2008 all set to dance and sashay in 2009, which is a year that already has the odds stacked against it. After all, the global economic difficulties are supposed to get worse before they improve. That means more jobs will be lost, credit pushed to its limits and old and reliable businesses will vanish.
This is progress they say. Actually, it’s more like Leonardo DiCaprio’s character William Costigan quoting Hawthorne to Martin Sheen and Marky Mark in “The Departed” when he says, “Families are always rising and falling in America…”
What’s the matter, you don't know any Shakespeare, smart ass?
Anyway, take away the economics and the various scandals (which are typically based in one form of economics or another) and ’08 wasn’t half bad. Think about it, there was a historical presidential election in which the results were not disputed and great advances in technology changed much about everyday life.
Only problem is we might not have the cash for all the cool stuff.
Around here, of course, 2008 was pretty nice. Generally the term “October Surprise” has sinister connotations but in regard to Philadelphia in 2008 it ended with a massive parade down Broad Street to celebrate the city’s first championship in 25 years. For the World F. Champion Phillies the 11-3 run through the post-season clinched just the second World Series victory since 1883.
So yeah, the Phillies made the year during the playoff run that began on Oct. 1 and ended on Oct. 29. Call it the most fun-filled and wacky four weeks in recent sports memory.
Before we delve into one of those odious recaps of the year that are almost as puzzling as gathering in the town square to dance and holler for a new year, it is fair to report that the good (sports) things of 2008 weren’t just the property of the Phillies or Philadelphia. After all, based on how the Eagles wrapped up November who would have guessed they would open 2009 with a playoff game?
Someone gets a last laugh there and it ain’t me.
Meanwhile, last spring the 76ers and Flyers continued the proverbial building for the future with playoff berths. While the Sixers’ still have much work to do to repeat on ‘08’s success, the Flyers are one of those young and exciting teams that cities not named Philadelphia have.
Nevertheless, outside of the baseball post-season (at least in Philly), the Olympics in Beijing were as good as they have been in a generation. Michael Phelps delivered, the Dream Team woke up and Usain Bolt stole the show.
Still, the Phillies moments will continue to dominate the locus of my mind. Who will ever forget Brad Lidge’s last pitch to in Game 5 part 2? Or how can we forget Carlos Ruiz’s game-winning hit in the wee hours of the morning in Game 3?
Chase Utley’s fielding and Cole Hamels’ pitching will morph into legends as the years steamroll on, while manager Charlie Manuel will be remembered as a guy who made all the correct moves at precisely the right time.
But the two memories that stand out the most are not the champagne showers after the clinchers over the Nationals, Brewers, Dodgers and Rays. And the Marriott’s in Milwaukee, Pasadena and Clearwater weren’t exactly the Ritz, though the folks traveling around the country to write and report on the Phillies made every joint feel like the most fun place on earth.
After all, it’s always the journey more than the destination.
Regardless, when Shane Victorino stepped out of the batter’s box at Dodger Stadium during Game 3 of the NLCS and told pitcher Hiroki Kuroda to be a man and plunk him in the ribs with a pitch was stellar. It also was one of those scene-shifting moments of the series in which the Phillies proved to be an atypical bully in that they were going to dish it out and take it.
You know, it was one of those moments when the gauntlet is thrown down, picked up and tossed right back to the other side. It definitely makes for exciting baseball.
After that game, when all the press had retreated back to the press box to collect their things and go back to their Marriott since the east coast newspaper deadlines had passed (hey big newspaper exec-types, don’t tell anyone, but this Internets thing… it might catch on kind of like the TV), Victorino snuck out from the back corridors of the shoe-box sized clubhouse at Dodger Stadium from where he’s been hiding. Never one to avoid the press like that, Victorino told me he didn’t want to talk about the incident with Kuroda only to continue to talk about it for 10 minutes next to his locker.
“They had to do it. Someone was bound to get hit and it was my turn,” Victorino said in noting that the Dodgers’ Russell Martin and Manny Ramirez had already been brushed back or plunked. “Just don’t throw at my head.”
There were other things Victorino said that are relegated to the off-the-record file, but the essence of it all was the same.
“It’s part of the game,” Victorino said. “I have no problem if they want to brush me back or stick one in my ribs. Just don’t throw at my head.”
Do that and it just might get the pesky Hawaiian a little ticked off and do something big. You know, like he might belt a game-tying two-run homer in the late innings of Game 4 to set the table for the big blow a few hitters later.
That shot from Matt Stairs pretty much nailed it down.
The interesting part about Stairs’ pinch-hit homer wasn’t so much about the distance it traveled (it was a bomb!) or that he slugged on off a pitcher who had not allowed a homer at Dodger Stadium all season. Sure, the blast helped the Phillies rally to wild, come-from-behind victory and a 3-1 lead in the NLCS, but more importantly it became the moment of a long baseball career.
If Matt Stairs never gets another hit for the Phillies, it’s OK. His one home run did a pretty good job killing a lot of ghosts.
It killed a lot of stories, too. Ironically, Game 4 of the NLCS was on the 20th anniversary of Kirk Gibson’s famous home run against Dennis Eckersley in Game 1 of the ’88 World Series. Seated to my right was the Inquirer’s Phil Sheridan who told me he was sitting in the press area not too far from where we were when Gibson hit his walk-off homer. At the time though, Sheridan said he didn’t really get a chance to enjoy the moment because he was fighting another east-coast deadline and was all set to send a story back to Philadelphia about Oakland’s victory when Gibson stepped up and ruined it all.
So two decades later on the same exact night, Matt Stairs ruined a lot of stories. The funniest part was the stares and curses I received when Stairs strolled to the box and I proclaimed…
“He’s going deep right here.”
Nailed that one.
But before we get too full ourselves I should also mention that I thought Tampa Bay was going to win Game 5.
Shows what I know.